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“HOMEFRONT” RETROSPECT: (1.01) “S.N.A.F.U.”

There are only a handful of television shows that I am very emotional about. There are only a handful that I consider to be among the best I have ever seen on the small screen. One of them happened to be the 1991-1993 ABC series, “HOMEFRONT”. Not only do I view it as one of the few television series that turned out to be consistently first-rate from beginning to end, it also has one of the best pilot episodes I have ever seen.

“HOMEFRONT” followed the lives and experiences of a handful of citizens in the fictional town in Ohio, right after the end of World War II. In fact, its pilot episode, (1.01) “S.N.A.F.U.” picks up not long after the war finally ended with Japan’s surrender. Army war veterans Hank Metcalf and Charles “Charlie” Hailey are in New York City, awaiting a train to take them home to River Run, Ohio. Hank is unaware that his longtime girlfriend, Sarah Brewer, has been dating his younger brother Jeff, while he was overseas. And Charlie has an unpleasant surprise for his longtime girlfriend and fiancée, Ginger Szabo – he has married a British woman named Caroline. Other surprises loomed for some of the citizens of River Run. Hank’s sister, Linda, had been dating his and Charlie’s friend, Mike Sloan, before war. Yet, unbeknownst to her, he has married an Italian woman named Gina, who is also a survivor of the Holocaust. Both Linda and her mother, Anne Metcalf, employees at Sloan Industries during the war, were unceremoniously fired with other women employees to make room for returning male veterans. And the Sloans’ chauffeur and housekeeper, Abe and Gloria Davis, receive a surprise in the return of their son Robert from the war. They are even further surprised by his embittered attitude toward the racism he had encountered in the Army and that a job as janitor awaits him at the Sloans’ factory.

I really do not know what to say about “S.N.A.F.U.”. I had never paid much attention to it, when I last saw “HOMEFRONT” on TVLAND, during the summer of 2000. After my recent viewing of the episode, I cannot understand how I could have ever ignored it in the first place. Not only is “S.N.A.F.U.” an outstanding episode, I now realize it is one of the best in the series. Is it the best? I have no idea. I would have to become reacquainted with the other forty-one episodes. I will say this for “S.N.A.F.U.” – the screenplay written by Lynn Marie Latham and Bernard Lechowick could easily compete with the 1946 movie, “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES” in regard to a narrative about World War II U.S. servicemen returning home. Not surprising, Latham and Lechowick’s transcript won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Original Long Form in Television.

In a way, I can see why this episode strongly reminded me of “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES”. For an episode that mainly focused on the return of River Run’s U.S. servicemen, it seemed filled with a good deal of bitterness, despair and a surprising tragedy. Discrimination seemed prevalent in this episode. The Metcalf women – Anne and her daughter Linda – lost their wartime jobs at the Sloan Industries because owner Michael Sloan decided women were no longer needed as employees, due to the war’s end. On the other hand, the episode revealed Robert Davis’ bitterness over the racism he encountered in the U.S. Army. This bitterness carried over when he discovered that the promised job at Sloan Industries turned out to be a janitor. “S.N.A.F.U.”featured one interesting scene regarding both the racism and sexism faced by some of the characters. In one scene, while office manager Sam Schenkkan fires Linda, he hires Robert for the janitor job. The emotional response expressed by both Robert and Linda proved to be very interesting. Bigotry against foreigners and anti-Semitism reared its ugly head in a story line that featured the Sloans’ discovery that their only son, Michael Sloan Jr., had married an Italian-Jewish woman and Holocaust survivor named Gina. Most of the episode featured the couple trying to find a way to annul their son’s marriage before his return.

Romance certainly proved to be a problem in “S.N.A.F.U.”. Both Linda and her best friend, Ginger Szabo, expected to resume their romances with respective boyfriends upon their return from the war. Linda, who was in love with Mike Jr., learned about his marriage to Gina, upon the latter’s arrival to Ohio. And Ginger, who had been engaged to her longtime boyfriend Charlie Hailey, discovered he had married a young British woman named Caroline, while stationed overseas. And Caroline, as this episode later revealed, will prove to be a handful throughout the series’ run. Thwarted romance also struck another member of the Metcalf family. While Anne Metcalf’s oldest offspring, Hank, was fighting in Europe during the war; his younger brother Jeff got caught up in an unexpected romance with Hank’s girlfriend and fiancée, Sarah Brewer. Both Jeff and Sarah had decided she would break her engagement with Hank, so that both could declare their love for one another. However, Jeff found himself at the losing end of the lollipop when Sarah decided to remain with Hank. I have seen my share of movies about war veterans returning home. But I have never come across so much aborted romances and betrayal in one production in my life. And yet . . . Latham and Lechowick, along with the actors and actresses who portrayed these characters, made all of this romantic entanglements and betrayals seem emotionally true, instead of the usual second-rate melodrama.

If I must be honest, I believe “S.N.A.F.U.” is a prime example of what made “HOMEFRONT” one of the best television shows I have ever seen. Like the other 41 episodes that followed, “S.N.A.F.U.” explored the post-World War II world with a skillful mixture of drama, melodrama, romance, history, comedy and some action. To be honest, no action was featured in “S.N.A.F.U.”. But it did manifest in a few episodes during the series’ two-year run. I also have to comment on Latham and Lechowick’s exploration of racism, sexism, class and other issues in such a seamless, yet believable manner. I can only think of one or two other television shows that managed to achieve this . . . even to this day. And the more I realize this, I cannot help but wonder if most of today’s television producers are incapable of dealing with more than one or two particular issues. If this is true, then “HOMEFRONT”managed to achieve something rare that may never happen again.

The excellent writing featured in “S.N.A.F.U.” could have come to nothing without the first-rate cast for this show. I tried to think of a performance that seemed out of place or just plain ineffective. But I could not. Everyone gave it their all, including the likes of Kyle Chandler, Tammy Lauren, Dick Anthony Williams, David Newsome, Ken Jenkins, Harry O’Reilly and Hattie Winston. But there were a handful of performances that especially impressed me. I once read that when A.B.C. eventually cancelled “HOMEFRONT”after two seasons, Mimi Kennedy had broke into tears in the privacy of her dressing room. If this is true, I can understand why. I think that the role of Ruth Sloan, the haughty and blunt-speaking wife of industrialist Michael Sloan Sr. may have been the best in her career. I have always been amazed at how she conveyed both the unpleasant and sympathetic aspects of Ruth. I also enjoyed Sterling Macer’s performance as the embittered Robert Davis – especially in this episode. There is one scene in which the returning veteran is being welcomed home by his happy mother, grandmother and their friends, while he sits at the kitchen table trying . . . and failing to share their happiness. With very few words and his eyes, Macer skillfully conveyed Robert’s unhappy memories of the Army and his eventual inability to share his family’s happiness over his return.

Another performance that caught my attention came from Jessica Steen, who portrayed Linda Metcalf – middle child and only daughter of Anne Metcalf. Looking back on it, I believe Steen had a difficult job in this episode. Her emotions seemed to be all over the place, due to what she had experienced in “S.N.A.F.U.” – brother Hank’s return, anticipating Mike Sloan Jr.’s return, discovering Mike’s marriage to an Italian war refugee, dealing with best friend Ginger Szabo’s anger over Charlie Bailey and losing her job. And yet . . . she kept it all together with some first-rate acting skills. I was impressed by one last performance and it came from Sammi Davis (1987’s “HOPE AND GLORY”) as Charlie Bailey’s war bride, Caroline Bailey. Caroline has never been a popular character with the show’s fans. Many found her selfish and manipulative. I had also felt the same. But . . . I also recalled that Caroline was such an interesting character, thanks to Davis’ excellent performance. And at times, I also found her likable. I certainly found her very likable in “S.N.A.F.U.”. The scheming manipulator revealed her claws in her effort to regain the down payment Charlie had given to a landlord, who welshed on them and I cheered. I also understood her anger and confusion from Ginger’s hostile attitude toward her, especially since she obviously had no idea why Ginger was being rude.

What else can I say about “S.N.A.F.U.”? That it was a superb premiere for a first-rate series like “HOMEFRONT”? I have noticed that most television shows with excellent pilot episodes tend to go downhill by the end of the first season or the beginning of the second. Fortunately, this never happened with “HOMEFRONT”. Like “S.N.A.F.U.”, it remained an excellent piece of television entertainment throughout its two-year run. And it is a damn pity that the entire series has not been released on DVD.

“THE GOLDEN BOWL” (2000) Review

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“THE GOLDEN BOWL” (2000) Review

I have never read any of Henry James’ literary works. Never. However, I have seen a few adaptations of his works. Some of them had been adapted by the production team of Ishmail Merchant and James Ivory. Aside from E.M. Forster, they must have been diehard fans of James. They had produced three adaptations of James’ novels, including the 2000 film, “THE GOLDEN BOWL”.

Based upon James’ 1904 novel, “THE GOLDEN BOWL” is a character study of an adulterous affair between an impoverished Italian prince named Amerigo and Charlotte Stant, an equally impoverished American young woman. The movie explores their affair and its impact upon their lives and the lives of their spouses – a father-and-daughter pair named Adam and Maggie Verver. The movie begins with Amerigo’s recent engagement to Maggie in London, July 1903. Amerigo and Charlotte, who were past lovers, visit A.R. Jarvis’ antique store in order for Charlotte to purchase a wedding gift for Maggie, who is an old school friend. Jarvis shows them an ancient bowl, carved from a single piece of crystal and embroidered with gold, he asserts is flawless. Charlotte is indecisive about buying it, and Jarvis offers to set it aside until she can make up her mind. Although Maggie’s aunt, Mrs. Fanny Assingham, is well aware of Amerigo and Charlotte’s past relationship, she suggests to Maggie that Charlotte would make the perfect second wife for Adam Verver some two years later. Concerned about her father’s possible loneliness, Maggie supports Fanny’s idea and eventually, Charlotte becomes her stepmother. Due to their irritation over the unusually close relationship between Maggie and Adam, Charlotte and Amerigo rekindle their affair at a country house party three years later. Although Fanny and her husband Bob Assingham become aware of the affair, they decide to main silence in order to protect Maggie from any personal pain. However, in the end, their efforts prove to be in vain.

This adaptation of James’ novel was not as well received as the 1972 BBC miniseries. Many critics claimed that the movie was not only inferior to the television production, but not as faithful to James’ novel. As I have stated in other reviews, complete faithfulness to a literary source is not needed for a successful film, television or stage adaptation. If the changes help a particular production, then I will have no problems with said changes. The problem with “THE GOLDEN BOWL” is that I have never read James’ novel. So, I cannot decide whether any changes made by screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala either improved or worsened James’ novel. How do I feel about the movie? Well . . . I rather liked it. Most of it. The older I get, the more I find it difficult to view adultery in fiction with any single-minded disapproval. I have to give credit to Jhabvala for portraying Charlotte and Amerigo’s affair with a good deal of maturity and complexity. Jhabvala made sure that audiences understood the couple’s passion for each other . . . well, Charlotte’s passion. The screenplay also conveyed the couple’s irritation with the Ververs’ close relationship and tendency to spend more time with each other, instead of their respective spouses. On the other hand, Jhabvala’s screenplay does not hesitate to express the negative aspects of the couple’s adultery – especially their careless behavior later in the story and the pain it causes Maggie when she becomes aware of it.

“THE GOLDEN BOWL” is a very beautiful looking film. I cannot deny this. The movie was filmed in both England and Italy. Tony Pierce-Roberts made good use of the locations, thanks to his sharp and colorful photography. But despite the movie’s lush color, I did not walk away feeling dazzled by his work. I believe my feelings stem from Pierce-Roberts’ limited use of exterior shots. On the other hand, I felt very impressed by Andrew Sanders’ production designs, which ably re-created the upper-class worlds of Edwardian Britain and Italy. He was able to achieve this effect with the help of Lucy Richardson’s art direction and Anna Pinnock’s set decorations. However, it was John Bright’s costume designs that really blew me away:

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And yet . . . there are aspects of “THE GOLDEN BOWL” that either did not appeal to me or rubbed me the wrong way. These negative feelings regarding the movie did not pop up until its last 20 to 30 minutes. In the movie, director James Ivory included brief scenes of a turn-of-the-century American city as a visual symbol of the Ververs’ hometown, “American City”. These brief scenes were also used to reflect Charlotte’s distaste for the United States and her fear of returning there. The problem is that I found these scenes very unnecessary and a rather heavy-handed literary device for American living during that period. The look on Uma Thurman’s face whenever someone mentioned the idea of her character returning to States seemed enough to me.

My real problem with “THE GOLDEN BOWL” is the strong hint of misogyny that seemed to mark the consequences that both Amerigo and Charlotte faced for their infidelity. It was bad enough that Fanny Assingham dumped most of the blame for the affair on Charlotte’s shoulders. But apparently, so did Henry James. In the end, Amerigo failed to suffer any consequences for his faithlessness. On the other hand, Charlotte did. She not only lost Amerigo, but Maggie convinced her husband (and Maggie’s father) to return to the United States to build his museum, taking Charlotte along, as well. One could say that Amerigo and Charlotte’s fates were the result of Maggie’s selfish desire to keep her husband. But when Amerigo failed to inform Charlotte that they had been found out and expressed contempt toward her failure to realize that Maggie knew about their affair, I became completely disgusted. Some claim that the latter never happened in James’ novel. Actually, it did. And I can never forgive James’ for his hypocrisy and obvious sexism. This struck me as a clear case of society blaming the woman for an adulterous affair.

“THE GOLDEN BOWL” featured some pretty solid performances and a few that really impressed me. Madeline Potter (an old Merchant-Ivory veteran), Peter Eyre, and Nicholas Day all gave solid performances. Although I would not regard their portrayals of the Assinghams as among their best, both Anjelica Huston and James Fox gave entertaining performances as the pair who seemed aware of the adulterous affair in this story. The chemistry between them struck me as surprisingly effective. Jeremy Northam gave a smooth and complex portrayal of the adulterous Italian prince torn between two American women. And I felt relief that his Italian accent – even if not genuine – did not bordered on the extreme. Kate Beckinsale’s handling of an American accent struck me as a little more genuine . . . but just a little. Her performance for most of the film seemed pretty solid. But once her character became aware of the affair, Beckinsale’s performance became more nuanced and skillful. Uma Thurman was excellent as the passionate, yet shallow Charlotte Stant Verver. Her Charlotte could have easily dissolved into a one-dimensional villainess. But thanks to Thurman’s performance, I saw a passionate woman, whose flaws proved to be her undoing. However, I believe that Nick Nolte gave the best performance in the film as Charlotte’s husband and Maggie’s father, Adam Verver. Superficially, Nolte portrayed the millionaire as a soft-spoken, yet friendly man with a knack of making people feel at home. But there were times – especially in the movie’s second half – in which Nolte kept audiences guessing on whether or not his character knew about the affair between Charlotte and Amerigo.

I would not regard “THE GOLDEN BOWL” as one of my favorite Ismail Merchant-James Ivory productions. But unlike some others, I certainly do not regard it as their worst. My one major complaint about the film was the ending of the Amerigo-Charlotte affair, which seemed to smack of sexism. And frankly, I blame Henry James. However, thanks to a first-rate cast, lush visuals and decent direction by Ivory, I thought it was a pretty decent and interesting film.

Chicken Fried Steak

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Below is an article about the American dish known as Chicken Fried Steak:

CHICKEN FRIED STEAK

For years, I had avoided consuming a dish known as Chicken Fried Steak. For reason that now elude me, I tend to regard it as some dish that was nothing more than a great deal of fat and little meat, breaded and fried. During a trip to a local family restaurant, I decided to give it a chance and to my surprise, I became an immediate fan.

Chicken Fried Steak is basically associated with American South cuisine. Some believe that the dish’s name originated with the fact that the meat (actually steak) is fried in oil that had already been used for fried chicken. Others claim that the name originated from the fact that the steak is prepared with the same method for cooking fried chicken. Chicken Fried Steak resembles several European dishes like Austria’s Wiener Schnitzel, Italy’s Milanesa and Scotland’sCollops.

It is possible that Chicken Fried Steak owed its origins to the Wiener Schnitzel. German and Austrian immigrants from Europe first settled in Texas during the 1830s. Many Texans claim that some of these immigrants eventually moved to Lamesa, the seat of Dawson County on the Texas South Plains in the mid-to-late 1850s. The citizens of Lamesa claim their town as the birthplace of Chicken Fried Steak. But it is not the only claim. The citizens of Bandera, Texas (located in the region known as the Texas Hill Country) claim that one of their citizens, John “White Gravy” Neutzling, had invented the dish.

Below is the recipe for “Chicken Fried Steak” from the Cooking Channel website (courtesy Tom Perini/Perini Ranch Steakhouse):

Chicken Fried Steak

Ingredients

Steak:
3 pounds (about 6 ounces each) rib eye steaks, 1/2-inch thick
3/4 cup milk
1 egg, beaten
2 to 3 cups flour
2 teaspoons seasoning salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Canola oil

Gravy:
3 heaping tablespoons flour
2 cups cold milk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

For the steak: Trim any remaining fat off the steaks and, using a mallet or rolling pin, pound out the steaks to 1/4-inch thick.

Beat together the milk and egg in a shallow dish and set aside. Place the flour in a shallow dish, season well with the seasoning salt and pepper and set aside.

Cover the bottom of a large skillet, preferably cast iron, with enough oil to reach about 1/2-inch up the pan. Heat over medium-high heat.

Coat the steaks in the egg mixture, then the flour and then add to the pan. Cook until the juices begin to surface and the bottom is nice and brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip the steaks and cook another 2 to 3 minutes more. Be careful to not overcook. Continue this process until all the steaks are cooked, placing the finished steaks on a paper towel-lined baking sheet.

After frying the steaks, prepare to make the gravy: Let the drippings in the pan sit until the excess browned bits of seasoning settle to the bottom of the skillet. Pour off most of the oil, leaving about 4 tablespoons behind with the brown bits. Add the flour, stirring until well mixed. Place the skillet back over medium-high heat and slowly add the milk while stirring constantly. Cook until the gravy comes to a boil. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with chicken fried steak.

“KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” (1953) Review

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“KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” (1953) Review

Twentieth-Century Fox was never a studio that I would associate with movies about the British Empire. Mind you, the studio had released several during the period between its formation in 1935 and the 1953 release of “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES”. Yet . . . it never seemed to produce many productions on European imperialism in compare to studios like Paramount Pictures, Warner Brothers and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Just recently, I watched “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” and discovered that it was a remake of John Ford’s 1929 adventure film, “THE BLACK WATCH”. And both movies were film adaptations of Talbot Mundy’s 1916 novel, “King of the Khyber Rifles”. However, the 1929 film seemed to be a closer adaptation of Mundy’s novel, than this 1953 film that starred Tyrone Power. Was I disappointed by my discovery? Honestly, no. I have read the synopsis of the original novel. It did not quite pique my interest the way Ivan Goff and Ben Roberts’ screenplay did.

“KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” told the story of a Sandhurst-trained British Army officer named Captain Alan King, who has been assigned to a North-West Frontier Province garrison near the Khyber Pass in 1857. His fellow officers, including his commander Brigadier-General J.R. Maitland, discover that King’s mother was a Muslim and native Indian before subjecting him to many subtle forms of bigotry. His roommate, Lieutenant Geoffrey Heath, even moves out of their quarters in protest to sharing a bungalow with someone who is not completely white. Only the general’s daughter, Susan Maitland, harbors no prejudice against King and slowly begins falling in love with him.

The garrison under Maitland finds itself facing a political storm in the form of an Afridi deserter named Karram Khan, who has created his own following among nearby local tribesmen. Unbeknownst to the British garrison, many native sepoys (soldiers) across British India are in an uproar over British acquisition of more Indian kingdoms and the new Enfield rifles. When Maitland discovers that King knew Karram Khan as a boy, he orders the latter to train and command a company of native calvary troopers to deal with Karram Khan. But when he becomes fully aware of the romantic feelings between the younger officer and Susan, Maitland considers an earlier suggestion of King’s . . . one that could endanger the latter’s life.

When I began to watch “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES”, I had no idea of how I would regard it in the end. Superficially, it seemed like the typical pro-Imperial adventure film that Hollywood had been churning out since the silent era. The movie featured the usual Imperialist adventure traits – dashing, yet handsome British officer/hero, the charming heroine that happened to be daughter/sister/niece of the hero’s commanding officer, Muslim fanatic leader and villain, Northern Indian tribesmen under the villain’s leadership, and personal connection between the hero and the villain (well . . . sometimes). I also wish that “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” had been ten to fifteen minutes longer. If it had, then the narrative would not have seemed so rushed.

One could also see that the 20th Century Fox Studios gave little thought to the movie’s production values. Despite the presence of A-list actors in the cast – Tyrone Power, Terry Moore and Michael Rennie – I could not decide whether Fox Studios considered “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” an “A” or “B” movie. Everything about the movie’s production design and visual style seemed to reek of a “B” movie. The only exception seemed to be Travilla’s costume designs, especially for Moore. I have one last major problem with “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” – namely British actor Guy Rolfe, who portrayed Karram Khan. I realize that the Hollywood industry was (and continues to be) reluctant to give non-Western or non-white roles to non-Western actors. I suspect this is something that will last for a very long time. But . . . poor Rolfe was forced to don blackface for his role as the Northern Indian rebel. I found this unnecessary, especially since a dark-haired and dark-eyed white actor with a slight tan could have portrayed this role. Many natives of the region are among the most light-skinned in the India subcontinent. But blackface . . . for a character who was supposed to be a native of Northern India? Rolfe looked like a performer of a minstrel show – being held in Calcutta.

But despite the subpar production values, the rushed ending and Guy Rolfe’s makeup, I must admit that “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” proved to be a decent, yet almost mediocre film. I certainly had no problems with the performances. Tyrone Power gave an intelligent, yet charming performance as the movie’s leading character – the very competent Alan King who is torn between his parents’ two worlds and his feelings for the leading lady. I noticed that he did not bother to attempt a British accent. I did not mind. He still managed to project the style of a man born and raised in Europe . . . or by Europeans. More importantly, he skillfully portrayed a man torn between his loyalties toward his father’s people and resentment toward their treatment of him. Terry Moore did not bother to hide her American accent as well, despite portraying the young and English-born Susan Maitland. And she also gave an intelligent and spirited performance that I found personally appealing. I was especially impressed with her acting in one scene in which she conveyed Susan’s disgust toward the bigotry that surrounded Alan King. Michael Rennie’s portrayal of Susan’s father, Brigadier-General J.R. Maitland, struck me as very interesting. On one level, he seemed like the typical intelligent and well-bred British officer that seems to be idealized in many other film productions. Yet, behind the idealized portrait, Rennie subtlety revealed General Maitland’s insidious bigotry and wiliness to send Captain King to his death in order to nip any potential romance between the mixed blood officer and his daughter. One last performance I have to comment upon was Guy Rolfe’s portrayal of the Afridi leader, Karram Khan. Yes, I found his blackface makeup offensive. But I also cannot deny that he gave a surprisingly subtle and intelligent portrayal of the tribal leader determined to rid his country of the invading British. I found it odd that his character was described as “fanatic”, but I never got that vibe, thanks to Rolfe’s subtle performance. He simply portrayed Karram as an intelligent and charismatic leader who is not above utilizing violence to achieve his goal.

Earlier, I had commented that “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” possessed the basic ingredients of a typical imperialist adventure film made in Hollywood. Trust me . . . it does. And yet, the movie’s screenwriters undermined the Imperialist genre by transforming the main character into an officer of mixed Anglo-Indian blood. The screenwriters also did not hesitate to convey the ugly bigotry that existed in British India. I was also impressed by how they touched on the issues that led Indian sepoys to rebel against the British military and government leaders in 1857 – especially the distribution of the new Enfield rifles. Many sepoys feared that the cartridges of the new rifles were coated with beef and/or pork grease and would compromise their religious beliefs. This fear played out in an interesting and intense scene in which King’s men were hesitant to follow him into battle as long as he insisted upon them using the rifles. I could not help but wonder if the more realistic politics of British Imperialism have been found in other imperial adventures released by Hollywood during the post-World War II era.

In the end, “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” proved to be an . . . interesting movie to a certain extent. Yes, the movie ended on an abrupt note. And it possessed all the attributes of your typical Hollywood imperial adventure. Yet, thanks to the screenwriters and director Henry King, the story undermined its more conservative element with a somewhat realistic portrayal of the Alan King character and his impact upon the other characters in the story. “KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES” also benefited from excellent performances from a cast led by Tyrone Power.

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Favorite Films Set in the 1950s

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Below is a list of my favorite movies set in the decade of the 1950s:

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1950s

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1. L.A. Confidential (1997) – Curtis Hanson directed this outstanding adaptation of James Ellroy’s 1990 novel about three Los Angeles police detectives drawn into a case involving a diner massacre. Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Guy Pierce and Oscar winner Kim Basinger starred.

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2. “Grease” (1978) – John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John starred in this entertaining adaptation of the 1971 Broadway musical about a pair of teenage star-crossed lovers in the 1950s. Randal Kleiser directed.

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3. “The Godfather, Part II” (1974) – Francis Ford Coppola directed his Oscar winning sequel to the 1972 Oscar winning adaptation of Mario Puzo’s 1969 novel. Al Pacino, Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall and Oscar winner Robert De Niro starred.

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4. “Quiz Show” (1994) – Robert Redford directed this intriguing adaptation of Richard Goodwin’s 1968 memoir, “Remembering America: A Voice From the Sixties”, about the game show scandals of the late 1950s. Ralph Fiennes, Rob Morrow and John Tuturro starred.

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5. “The Mirror Crack’d (1980) – Angela Landsbury starred as Miss Jane Marple in this adaptation of Agatha Christie’s 1962 novel. Directed by Guy Hamilton, the movie also starred Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and Edward Fox.

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6. “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skulls” (2008) – Harrison Ford returned for the fourth time as Dr. Henry “Indiana” Jones in this adventurous tale in which he is drawn into the search for artifacts known as the Crystal Skulls. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the movie was produced by him and George Lucas.

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7. “Champagne For One: A Nero Wolfe Mystery (2001)” – Timothy Hutton and Maury Chaykin starred as Archie Goodwin and Nero Wolfe in this television adaptation of Rex Stout’s 1958 novel. The two-part movie was part of A&E Channel’s “A NERO WOLFE MYSTERY” series.

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8. “Hollywoodland” (2006) – Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck starred in this intriguing tale about a private detective’s investigation into the life and death of actor George Reeves. Allen Coulter directed.

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9. “My Week With Marilyn” (2011) – Oscar nominee Michelle Williams starred as Marilyn Monroe in this adaptation of Colin Clark’s two books about his brief relationship with the actress. Directed by Simon Curtis, the movie co-starred Oscar nominee Kenneth Branagh and Eddie Redmayne as Clark.

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10. “Boycott” (2001) – Jeffrey Wright starred as Dr. Martin Luther King in this television adaptation of Stewart Burns’ book,“Daybreak of Freedom”, about the 1955 Montgomery bus boycott. Directed by Clark Johnson, the movie co-starred Terrence Howard and C.C.H. Pounder.

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Honorable Mention: “Mulholland Falls” (1996) – Nick Nolte starred in this entertaining noir drama about a married Los Angeles Police detective investigating the murder of a high-priced prostitute, with whom he had an affair. The movie was directed by Lee Tamahori.

“BABYLON 5″ RETROSPECT: (1.11) “Survivors”

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“BABYLON 5″ RETROSPECT: (1.11) “Survivors”

For the first time during its five-season run, the award-winning science-fiction series, “BABYLON 5″, focused on the major supporting character of Security Chief Michael Garibaldi. The name of the episode was Season One’s (1.11) “Survivors”. And I never realized until now, how much it foreshadowed future events in the series’ major story arc, until recently.

“Survivors” begins with the news network, ISN, announcing President Luis Santiago’s intention to pay a visit to Babylon 5 during his tour of Earth Alliance outposts. The president also intends to present a new wing of starfuries (fighter planes) to the station. While Garibaldi and Babylon 5’s second-in-command, Lieutenant-Commander Susan Ivanova, discuss Santiago’s upcoming visit, the station is rocked by an explosion inside its Cobra landing bay. An injured crewman named Nolan is tended in Medlab by medical officer, Dr. Stephen Franklin; while Garibaldi, Ivanova and Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (the station’s commanding officer) discuss the possibility of sabotage. Santiago’s security detail, led by one Major Lianna Kemmer, arrives on Babylon 5. Kemmer, who knew Garibaldi when she was a child, treats him coldly and demands that her detail investigate the Cobra Bay explosion. She and her aide Cutter, interrogate the badly wounded Nolan against Dr. Franklin’s wishes and manages to extract one name from him – Garibaldi’s – before his death. Kemmer demands that Sinclair put Garibaldi on suspension. And when Cutter finds the Cobra Bays blueprints and a bag of Centauri ducats inside Garibaldi’s quarters, Kemmer tries to arrest the security chief. But the latter makes his escape and tries to learn who had framed him.

Judging from the episode’s initial plot, one might be led to wonder what the title had to do with it. I mean . . . “Survivors” . . . in a tale about a political assassination plot? Once the episode moved into the details of Garibaldi’s history with Lianna Kemmer, I understood . . . completely. Babylon 5’s security chief had been a twenty-something Earthforce security guard at the ice-mining station on Europa, when he first met a shuttle pilot named Frank Kemmer and his family. Garibaldi had also developed a drinking problem to deal with the strains of working at the station. Garibaldi managed to make a few enemies on Europa, who decided to retaliate by rigging his friend’s shuttle pod to explode. Frank Kemmer was killed, Garibaldi was blamed and retreated further into the bottle. He eventually became estranged from Frank’s wife and daughter, Lianna, when he left Europa without any further word to them. Lianna grew resentful and angry over Garibaldi’s disappearance from the Kemmers’ lives. This continuing resentment spilled over into her willingness to quickly assume his guilt on the word of a dying terrorist. The presence of Lianna brought back painful memories of Europa for Garibaldi. His situation grew even worse after being named as a collaborator in the bombing and stripped of his position on the station. Once viewers became of Garibaldi’s history with Lianna, it became easy for me to see that the episode’s title referred to both characters.

I read a few reviews of “Survivors” online and noticed that most critics seemed to regard this episode as either a filler or an opportunity to flesh out the Michael Garibaldi character. On a certain level, they might be correct. The events of “Survivors” were never referred to again in the few episodes that followed, aside from a brief mention of the Cobra Bay bombing and President Santiago’s visit. And yet . . . I noticed something else. This episode also featured some major foreshadowing that not only played out by the end of this first season, but also as late as Season Five. One of the episode’s foreshadows featured Garibaldi’s alcoholism, which will rear its ugly head in future episodes. Many fans have never been able to deal with it. They were barely able to tolerate his alcoholism, as long as he was able to overcome it by the end of this episode. But when he succumbed to it again, they complained. Loudly. Apparently, they could not deal with him succumbing to it . . . again. And I never understood their attitude. Surely, they understood the struggles for any addict not to succumb again. But it seemed as if they could not deal with a guy like Garibaldi possessing such a major problem in the first place.

I must admit that it was interesting to watch someone like Garibaldi, an authority figure who knew more about the in and outs of Babylon 5 than anyone else, find himself stripped of his authority, neutralized from his friends and hunted down by an authority higher than the station’s commander, Sinclair. What made it even more interesting is that Garibaldi’s situation led him back to the bottle and at his lowest, before he could climb out of the gutter. It was also interesting to watch both Sinclair and Ivanova try their best to help Garibaldi. The commander came to Garibaldi’s rescue in a brief, yet rousing fight; while the latter was being beaten down by bounty hunters. And I found Ivanova’s subtle, yet brief threat to Lianna, when the latter tried to enforce her authority in the station’s Command and Control Center rather amusing. But in reality, there was very little they could do. It was Garibaldi who had to climb out of the bottle, do his own investigation and convince Lianna that he was an innocent man.

“Survivors” featured solid performances from the likes of Michael O’Hare, Claudia Christian, Richard Biggs, Tom Donaldson, David L. Crowley, Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik. But the real stars of this episode were Jerry Doyle as Garibaldi and Elaine Thomas as Lianna Kemmer. At first, I was not that sure about Thomas. She seemed stiff and a little uncomfortable in her early scenes. But once her character’s determination to hunt down Garibaldi became prominent, Thomas really grew into the role. And she did a marvelous job in her final scene. Jerry Doyle gave an outstanding performance as the increasingly besieged Garibaldi. Not only was he very effective in portraying his character’s growing desperation to escape the situation he found himself in, Doyle was surprising effective in portraying Garibaldi’s alcoholism. And I have noticed that portraying a drunken character does not seemed to be an easy thing to do.

I would never count “Survivors” as one of my favorite “BABYLON 5″ episodes. I would not count it as one of my favorite Michael Garibaldi episodes. But I must admit that I have always managed to enjoy myself, while watching it. Unlike many other “BABYLON 5″ fans, I have never been put off or outraged over the show’s portrayal of Garibaldi’s alcoholism. It gave Jerry Doyle an opportunity to really strut his stuff. And show runner J. Michael Straczynski managed to reap narrative gold out of this character trait – not only in this episode but also in future ones.

“SHINING THROUGH” (1992) Review

“SHINING THROUGH” (1992) Review

Many years have passed since I saw “SHINING THROUGH”. Many years. But after reading several reviews of the film over the years, I found myself wondering why I had enjoyed it in the first place. Why? Not many people really liked it.

Based upon Susan Isaac’s 1988 novel, “SHINING THROUGH” told the story of a woman of Irish and German-Jewish ancestry named Linda Voss and her experiences during World War II. The story begins when Linda applies for a job as a secretary at at prestigious Manhattan law firm. Linda is initially rejected, due to not being a graduate of a prestigious women’s college. But when she reveals her knowledge of German, she is hired on the spot. Linda serves as a translator to an attorney named Ed Leland, who is revealed to be an O.S.S. officer after the United States enter World War II. They also become lovers. Despite personal conflicts and separations, Linda and Ed resume their working relationship, until she volunteers to replace a murdered agent in Berlin on short notice. Much to Ed’s reluctance, Linda heads to Berlin and eventually becomes the governess to the children of a high-ranking Nazi officer named Franz-Otto Dietrich.

I eventually learned that “SHINING THROUGH” has developed quite a bad reputation over the years. Many consider it inferior to Isaac’s novel. It is even part of the “100 Most Enjoyably Bad Movies Ever Made” list by Golden Raspberry Award founder, John Wilson. This low opinion of “SHINING THROUGH” has led me to avoid it for years after I had first saw it. In fact, I became even more determined to avoid it after reading Isaac’s novel. Then I recently watched the movie again after so many years and wondered what was the big deal. I am not saying that “SHINING THROUGH” was a great movie. It was not. But I found it difficult to accept this prevailing view that it was one of the worst movies ever made. More importantly, my opinion of the novel is not as highly regarded as it is by many others. Basically, I have mixed feelings about the novel and the film.

The technical crew for “SHINING THROUGH” did a first-rate job. Production designer Anthony Pratt did an excellent job in re-creating both the eastern United States and Germany during the early 1940s. He was ably assisted by cinematographer Jan de Bont, whose photography struck me as particularly rich, sharp and colorful. I found Peter Howitt’s set decorations particularly effective in the Berlin sequences. I especially enjoyed the late Marit Allen’s costume designs for the film. I thought she did an excellent job in ensuring that the costumes effectively reflected the characters’ nationalities, gender, class and positions.

Before I discuss the movie’s virtues and flaws, I have to do the same for Isaac’s novel. I was very impressed by how the writer handled Linda Voss’ relationships with attorney John Berringer, his wife Nan Leland and the latter’s father, Ed Leland rather well. I found Isaac’s handling of Linda’s private life very romantic, complex, detailed, rather messy and very realistic. In fact, I remember being so caught up by Linda’s personal life that by the time the story jumped to the Berlin sequences, I realized that this segment had taken up over half of the novel. But once Isaac’s moved to the story to Linda’s wartime experiences as a spy in Berlin, I found myself feeling very disappointment. It seemed so rushed and unfulfilling. I was also surprised by how my feelings for the novel seemed to be the complete opposite of my feelings toward the movie.

Unlike Isaac’s portrayal of Linda’s private life, I was not impressed by how David Seltzer handled the character’s romance in the movie’s first half. I had no problems with Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas. They had a decent chemistry, if not particularly spectacular. But the Linda/Ed romance lacked the detailed complexity and realism of the literary romance. Instead, I found it turgid, somewhat simple-minded and a bad rehash of clichéd World War II romances found in many past movies. I even had to endure a rendition of the old wartime standby, “I’ll Be Seeing You”, while Linda and Ed hash over his disappearance during the war’s first six months. I also noticed that Seltzer eliminated the John Berringer and Nan Leland characters, which reduced Linda and Ed’s romance into a one-note cliché. All I can is . . . thank God the movie shifted to Linda’s experiences in Berlin. I realize that many fans of Isaac’s novel would disagree with me, but I feel that Seltzer handled the story’s second half – both as the movie’s director and screenwriter – a lot better than Isaac. I realize that this revelation might seem sacrilege to many of the novel’s fans, but I stand by my opinion. Seltzer’s screenplay seemed to go into more detail regarding Linda’s mission in Germany – from the moment when the elderly, German-born Allied spy called “Sunflower” escorts her from Switzerland to Berlin; to Linda’s search for her Jewish relations; and finally to when Linda and Ed’s attempt to cross back into Switzerland. This entire sequence was filled with exciting action, drama, surprising pathos and some first-rate suspense – especially between Linda and two particular characters. My three favorites scenes from this entire sequence were the development of Linda’s friendship with Sunflower’s niece, Margrete von Eberstein; her outing to Berlin’s zoo with the Dietrich children; and her showdown with a Nazi spy after escape from Dietrich’s home. I found Linda’s developing friendship with Margrete fun to watch. The entire sequences regarding both the visit to the zoo and Linda’s showdown with a spy two very suspenseful, yet fascinating sequences.

As I had earlier stated, Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas did not exactly burn the movie screen as a romantic couple. But I thought they managed to create a solid romance . . . enough to rise above Selzer’s turgid writing that seemed to mar the movie’s first forty minutes or so. Griffith did a first-rate job as Linda Voss by conveying both the character’s passion and clumsy skills as a spy. My only problem with Griffith’s performance is that she did not seem to make an effective narrator. Her voice was too soft and Seltzer’s words struck me as over-the-top. Michael Douglas portrayed Ed Leland – Linda’s boss and eventual lover – and gave a very good performance. I thought he was very effective in conveying Ed’s no-nonsense personality. But in my opinion, the best performance came from Liam Neeson, who portrayed Linda’s second employer – Franz-Otto Dietrich. First of all, I have to give kudos to Neeson for portraying Dietrich without the usual negative overtones usually associated with on-screen Nazi officers. Neeson portrayed Dietrich as a soft-spoken and charming man, who also seemed to be a devoted father and very observant man. At the same time, Neeson took care to convey to audiences that Dietrich could also be very ruthless with great skill and subtlety.

“SHINING THROUGH” was the second time I had become acquainted with Joely Richardson. I was very impressed by her portrayal of Linda’s only Berlin friend, Margrete von Eberstein, who happened to be Sunflower’s niece and also a spy for the Allies. Richardson gave a particularly effervescent performance as the very charming Margrete. She also clicked very well with Griffith on screen. John Gielgud probably gave the most crowd pleasing performance in the film as Sunflower, the German aristocrat-turned-Allied spy. Gielgud provided some memorable zingers, while his character delivered scathing criticism of Linda’s skills as a spy. The movie also featured brief appearances of veteran character actors Wolf Kahler and Thomas Kretschmann, who later became a rather busy character actor in the U.S. It also featured solid performances by Patrick Winczewski, Ronald Nitschke, Sheila Allen, Sylvia Sims, Francis Guinan; along with Anthony Walters and Victoria Shalet as the Dietrich children.

Do I believe that “SHINING THROUGH” deserved the movie critics’ contempt, along with the numerous Razzies awards it acquired? No. Not really. It is not the greatest World War II melodrama I have ever seen. And I certainly would not have placed it on a “best movies” list of any kind. “SHINING THROUGH” is basically a mixed bag, much like the Susan Isaac novel upon which it is based. Like the novel, the movie is a study in contradiction. Writer-director David Seltzer’s handling of the Linda Voss-Ed Leland romance could be called a cinematic embarrassment. It is only a miracle that Melanie Griffith and Michael Douglas’ performances were not marred by such bad writing. On the other hand, Seltzer did an excellent job in writing and directing the sequences featuring Linda’s adventures in Germany. If you are not expecting a cinematic masterpiece, I would suggest watching it . . . even if it means enduring the movie’s first forty minutes or so.

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